Round Australia Road Trip #29
In 1915, after the Allied disaster at Gallipoli and the ever-increasing casualty list on the Western Front, voluntary enlistment in the Australia Imperial Force had dropped dramatically. A stirring recruitment poster from that time shows an Australian digger calling to his countrymen to enlist, hand cupped to his mouth in a bushman’s coo-ee.
In the central western New South Wales town of Gilgandra, local brothers Richard and Bill Hitchen came up with a plan to encourage local men to enlist. They organised a recruitment march from Gilgandra to Sydney, a distance of 320 miles (515 km). On 10th October, 1915 a group of 35 men left Gilgandra with the cheers of the local townsfolk ringing in their ears.
As they passed through towns on the way, the men gave rousing speeches and, by the time they reached Sydney on 12th November 1915, another 238 volunteers had joined them. On their arrival in Sydney, excited crowds greeted the Coo-ees as national heroes.
The Coo-ee Heritage Centre in Gilgandra houses the Coo-ee March Collection, a fascinating display of memorabilia, posters, uniforms and personal recollections.
A statue in the main street of Gilgandra depicts a digger coo-eeing to his comrades, while a plaque marks the place where the march started.
In 2015, to mark the centenary of the Coo-ee March, a re-enactment march followed the original route, leaving Gilgandra on 17th October and arriving in Martin Place, Sydney on Remembrance Day, 11th November.